Archive for the ‘Random Musings’ Category

Well, Jedward are off to Germany in May to represent Ireland in Eurovision. “Here we go again”, I can hear some of you say. Maybe not.

Jedward’s performance of the song “Lipstick” was energetic, it was well staged and executed by all, and the choreography was polished. The song wasn’t bad either, and John and Edward gave their best singing performance ever, on TV anyway. It looked and sounded like it could be a contender, although I’m not sticking my neck out and saying that it will win. The only sure thing about Eurovision is that your jaw is going to drop several times over the course of the night. However, we can only do better than previous years.

The new format didn’t hurt. Not long ago I said here that we should just let the professionals manage our entry into this contest and stay out of the way. Well, that didn’t happen exactly, there was still voting, but all five entrants had a profesional to mentor them and put together well chosen songwriters with right artists for the song. In Jedward’s case, the mentor was Caroline Downey Desmond working with songwriters Dan Priddy, Lars Jensen, and Martin Larson.

As a result of the professional approach, all of the songs and performances were of a better quality than we’ve come to expect, and although not all of them could be considered Eurovision songs, they were far above being embarrassing.

It will be interesting to see how the lads fare in May.

A few days ago I used a Marx Brothers reference to indicate how crammed a track felt due to over compression. Not twenty-four hours later, We7’s Monday morning playlist of new releases (new to We7 at least) made me regret wasting that phrase, for truly there is no finer example of the audio equivalent of the stateroom scene from “A Night at the Opera” than “The Intro and the Outro

The song is by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band, a collection of lunatics from the 60’s. No doubt, those of us above a certain age remember this track well, and maybe a few more such as “Hunting Tigers Out in India”.

The band included Neil Innes on Piano, who later went on to help create the Rutles (a Beatles parody band, years before Spinal Tap) and musical work with Monty Python.

“The Intro and the Outro” introduces each member of the band, and gives them a few bars of solo time. Once out of actual band members, the MC continues to introduce anyone else who comes to mind (e.g. Charles de Gaulle on accordion, Snoopy and his pals tap dancing, Roy Rogers on Trigger, etc., etc.) until it seems there could no remaining room in the studio.

Take the three minutes for this bit of seldom heard history.

Rock music is partly about being different, distinctive, isn’t it? Trawling through new releases, I came across three successive songs from different bands, all of which used the same approach to vocal dynamics: Sing the slow parts melodically, scream the loud parts as though you’re trying to blow your lungs out through your larynx, a techique developed by such old, established bands as Linkin Park.

The songs are as follows:

  • Weight of the Sun (or the Post-Modern Prometheus) – And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
  • “Learn to Live” – Architects
  • “The Light” – Decoder

Perhaps I find this similarity more grating because I never really did like that dynamic device. In fairness, Architects sound most like a straight-up rock band, despite the vocal contrivance. And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead deserve a special award for having a combined song title and band name that nearly requires vinyl just to hold the print. But overall, the similarities put me too much in mind a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.

In the scene, Brian awakes one morning to find his followers assembled below his bedroom window. As part of his efforts to dissuade people from following him, he at one point calls down to the crowd.

Brian: You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!
Crowd (in unison): Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
Crowd: [in unison] Yes, we are all different!
Lone voice: I’m not.
Crowd: Shhhh!

Forget the crowd, listen to your inner voice. More individuals please.

“Just to Feel my Love, ” read the text. It wasn’t a personal expression from my baby, but the name of a song (well, almost) that she just heard on the bus. I had no idea what song she was talking about, but I was sitting in front of the Google machine, and a quick trip to we7 later we were listening to Billy Joel singing “Make You Feel My Love”, then Adele’s version.

We could have gone on; apparently dozens of people have recorded this latter-day Bob Dylan track. In Ireland alone there are versions by Mary Black, Luka Bloom, Freddie white, and Ronan Keating. Even actor Jeremy Irons has had a bash. According to Wikipedia, the Jazz pianist Bill Evens has a version of the song, which I find difficult to believe since he died 17 years before Dylan released it, but considering Springsteen just released the studio version of “Because the Night”, I guess I’d better investigate further before dismissing it out of hand.

As I listened to the various versions, the following questions came to mind:

  1. There was a Bob Dylan song on the radio I didn’t know about?
  2. Is it me, or does Adele sound a whole lot like Amy Winehouse?
  3. There so much product out there, how would it be possible for any one set of ears to listen to it all?

What is my point? One of the reasons I don’t blog more often is because I convinced myself that blogging leaves me too open to smart arses who will amuse themselves by pointing out my jaw-droppingly ignorant omissions and mistakes. My experience with “Make You Feel My Love” underlined the fact that nobody knows everything. As I’m sure you guessed, the answer to question 3 is that it isn’t possible to listen to everything, not by half. But it is possible to keep exploring and writing about it. If you know of something worth listening to and commenting on, let me know.

OK, chill. It’s just on the table, it isn’t a done deal. I was sure their 15 minutes would be up on the last night of the panto, but their appearance late last year on Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday show proved them to be as jaw-droppingly surreal as “Father Ted” characters, and suggested that there is still some entertainment value to be had.

OK, but Eurovision? I realize that Ireland has been clueless for years about this song contest, ever since the pitch shifted after our triumvirate of conquests in the mid 90s. You can’t just stand up and sing your song anymore, as I’m sure Brian Kennedy can tell you. You need a big production number that would never work in any other context. You need visual stimulation as well as aural. You need scantily clad women dancing around a disembodied hand emerging from a piano as bare-chested Rank film extras beat giant drums with flashing flight terminal signs around and, just for good measure, demons with guitars. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is what it is. Add to that the number of Eastern European countries that have split like amoeba and are now voting for their former single-cell mates, and we are left scratching our heads over what to do about it, as we have been for well over a decade.

We tried to do it straight (with a pleasant, non-competitive song), we tried to do it pop (with a generic up-beat pop song). We tried to do it trad (without even waiting to see whether we would be putting forward a trad song). We even tried a dusty old turkey (with whatever the hell that was).

Is it just me, or is there a pattern here? Mix and match, pick the gimmick first then throw some inoffensive music at it that was chosen by committee, which in recent times usually consists of the entire population, or at least the ones who watch the Late Late. Now this year, instead of putting up one turkey who can’t sing, we are considering sending two. Have we learned nothing?

It’s a hard thing to have to admit, in a country where everyone has at least one song in them, but it’s time to bring in the professionals. We should let them write and/or choose a song, choose the performer, choreograph it, and road manage it. The extent of our input should be hiring said professionals then staying out of it to let them do their job. That’s what the competition is doing, and the result for us would certainly be no worse than it has been lately.

Or maybe we should just pack it in.

Sony is about to release the first of ten albums agreed in a deal with Michael Jackson’s estate valued at up to $250 million. This week, the focus seems to be on whether or not that’s actually Michael singing on the album. His brother Randy, among others, is sure it is not, not on every track anyway. The fact that the Jackson family was prevented from attending any of the sessions to complete the album further aroused suspicions. Also, the quality of the first track made public, “Breaking News”, had Randy questioning its authenticity because it wasn’t up to the perfectionist standards he expected from his brother. On the other hand Randy, maybe there’s a reason why the material wasn’t released while MJ was alive.

Well, maybe it’s Michael and maybe it isn’t. Add this to the long of MJ-related rumours that will never be proved or disproved adequately enough to prevent people from believing whatever they chose to believe. Yawn.

I think the most interesting question has little to do with the preceding details. It is this: Why does Sony feel compelled to sign a 10 album deal with a dead guy? That’s as many studio albums as he released when he was alive. Does Sony even know whether there is ten albums worth of material? Or five? Reported rumblings suggest that the first one will be shredded by the critics.

Whatever spin may be put on it, I think the obvious answer is that Michael Jackson can be counted on to do something that most artists find more difficult with each passing year – sell massive quantities of CDS. Last year, MJ was responsible for about 7% of Sony’s sales, and over 40% of Epic’s (Epic is the label that Michael Jackson actually appears on, but Sony is the parent company) “This is It”, his first actual posthumous release, sold 696,000 units in its first three weeks. Sony expect the new album to do better.

I get a sense that Sony is panic buying in a desperate attempt to slow their decline and, by extension, the erosion of the music industry as we know it. Music sales on physical media have tanked, downloads haven’t provided the balance to maintain status quo, different enterprises are scrambling to find a workable, profitable model going forward, and it might not be there, at least not in the form that the current market leaders would like it to be. If it is there, it’s likely that new faces with radical ideas will run off with at least some of the diminishing market. The music empires that came to power on the old paradigm are appropriately nervous. Why wouldn’t Sony want to perpetuate one of its biggest sellers? For their sake, I
hope the MJ deal isn’t the iceberg to their Titanic.

Q: What’s always coming but never comes?
A: The Beatles on iTunes.

The punch line might not be as old as the joke, but it was catching up. However, the joke became obsolete yesterday when Steve Jobs announced that the Beatles catalog will finally, finally, finally, finally (is that enough finallies?) be available on iTunes from early next year, thus again avoiding the horrendous possibility of the tracks being purchased before Christmas.

The “news” pales in comparison to last year’s reissue of remastered Beatles CDs. If you’re like me, you’ve already bought those CDs and ripped them to higher-quality aiff files. You may have even purchased them at half price, as I did when they were first released, which brought the cost to about what iTunes will be asking for them. Of course, now that they’re back to the regular retail price of over €20, iTunes will be the more cost-effective solution, but you’ll get what you pay for. Trust me, this is one instance where it’s well worth buying the CDs.

Ringo was quoted as saying, “I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes.” I’ll bet.

Addendum: I just got back from the Apple store, where all the Beatles albums are quite obviously, prominently for sale already, so I guess you can’t believe everything you read. A few extras are available too.